Hotel Holt is in fact an art museum in a hotel where you’ll find part of the largest private collection of Icelandic art.
The founders of Hotel Holt Þorvaldur Guðmundsson and Ingibjörg Guðmundsdóttir, were very passionate and interested in art, culture and history and their private collection includes most of the gems in Icelandic art history. This is by far Iceland’s largest private collection with a total of 1,560 pieces.
Around 460 works from the collection are on display at Hotel Holt. Þorvaldur and Ingibjörg wanted to give the hotel a distinguishable Icelandic character and so the building was adorned with Icelandic art from the very beginning.
The artwork in Hotel Holt is numbered and catalogued and the reception offers further information. Self-guided tour of the hotel museum is available QR code.
The art collection includes among others works by one of Iceland’s most beloved painters Jóhannes S. Kjarval who was a friend to Þorvaldur. They met when Þorvaldur worked at SS Butchers at age 17 and would regularly deliver food to Kjarval at his studio downtown. Their friendship would last for the rest of their lives and Þorvaldur and Ingibjörg’s private collection contains one of the largest collections of Kjarval’s works, including Lífshlaupið (Course of Life), a unique work of art that Kjarval painted directly onto the walls of his studio between 1929 and 1933. A section of this piece can be seen at the bar in the private function room Thingholt. Many of Kjarval’s well-known portraits can be seen in the hotel bar.
Most of the works found on the hotel’s ground floor are paintings and drawings by Kjarval but there are also paintings there by other pioneers such as Ásgrímur Jónsson, Jón Stefánsson, Kristín Jónsdóttir and Júlíana Sveinsdóttir. The collection includes epochal works like Konur í saltfiski / The Saltfish Ladies (1935) by Gunnlaugur Blöndal, Áning / Picnic (1939) by Jón Stefánsson, Konur við síldarsöltun / Women Salting Herring (1940) by Jón Þorleifsson, Sveitasæla / Rural Idyll (ca. 1955-1960) by Gunnlaugur Scheving, Töfrar Íslands / The Magic of Iceland (1962) by Jón Engilberts and two works: Farfuglar / Migratory Birds (1980) and Án titils / Untitled (1984) by Eiríkur Smith.
There are three sculptures in the hotel lobby. The bronze statue Friðarengillinn / The Angel of Peace (c.1910) by Einar Jónsson is next to the elevator and by the main entrance are two sculptures by Ásmundur Sveinsson: Framtíðin / The Future (c. 1950-55) and Tónar hafsins / Tones of the Sea (1950).
Two iron sculptures by Jón Benediktsson are on the hotel’s landings and from the ceiling of the top floor hangs a mobile of iron by Ásmundur Sveinsson. The bronze piece Höllin / The Palace by Gerður Helgadóttir is in the Thingholt room as well as four bronze works by Jón Benediktsson titled Heimkoma handritanna / Return of the Manuscripts, made by request for Þorvaldur and Ingibjörg upon the ancient manuscripts being returned to Iceland in 1971.
The iron-cast railing on the staircase leading down to Thingholt’s cloakroom was made by artist Jón Gunnar Árnason (1931-1989).
In front of the elevators in the hotel are three large stoneware reliefs, custom-made for Hotel Holt by Glit Pottery in Reykjavík. Iðnaður / Industry (1965) by painter Hringur Jóhannesson is on the 2nd floor and a little further up are two works by sculptor Ragnar Kjartansson; Sjávarútvegur / Fishing Industry (1965) on the 3rd floor and Verslun / Commerce on the 4th floor.
The relief Ásgarður / Asgard (1974) by sculptor Ragnar Kjartansson is next to Thingholt’s south entrance. The imagery is inspired by Norse mythology and combined from individual stoneware parts. The work depicts the following:
Odin rides Sleipnir, ravens Huginn and Muninn lead the way.
Wolves Geri, Freki and Breki follow.
Einherjar, Odin’s chosen ones, accompany him.
Thor waits for them at Þrúðvangur with his hammer.
The lobby and lounge of Hotel Holt has seascape works from Icelandic shores by Danish painters Carl Locher and Vilhelm Arnesen who accompanied Frederick VIII, king of Denmark, on his visit to Iceland in September 1907. You’ll also find two seascapes by Frants Landt from his journey to Iceland in 1936 as well as the painting Færeyskur sjómaður / Faroese Sailor (1963) by Faroese painter S.J. Mikines. Sjávarmynd frá Eyrarsundi / Seascape from Oresund by Danish painter Christian Bogø can be found in the hotel’s reading room.
Gudvangen (1883) by Norwegian painter Georg Anton Rasmussen is the oldest painting in the Hotel Holt collection and can be found in Thingholt along with two bronze and silver works by Swedish sculptor Walter Bengtsson, Afródíte / Afrodite (1967) and Stórveldin / The Superpowers (1975).
The hotel’s hallways are decorated with old maps of Iceland and 134 lithographs by artist M. August Mayer, who accompanied French nature scientist Joseph Paul Gaimard on a voyage around Iceland in 1835 and 1836.
They were published in a large publication titled Voyage En Islande et au Groënland exécuté pendant les années 1835 et 1836, published in Paris between 1838-1852. In 1986, Icelandic publishing house Örn & Örlygur published the book Íslandsmyndir Mayers 1836 / Mayer’s Scenes from Iceland 1836, which included all the works from Gaimard’s voyage.
The scenes that adorn the hotel’s hallways are unique depictions of the society in 19th century Iceland – portraits, houses, objects, places and more.